July 20, 2018 / 6:49 PM / 5 months ago

Brazil's Alckmin firms presidential bid with centrist coalition

BRASILIA, July 20 (Reuters) - Business-friendly Brazilian presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin got the strongest boost yet to his incipient campaign as a coalition of five centrist parties agreed to back him, the head of one of the parties told Reuters on Friday.

“It’s a done deal, as long as we do our homework,” said the party leader, who requested anonymity because the coalition’s formal announcement was scheduled for next week.

The windfall for the former Sao Paulo governor, whose Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) has backed President Michel Temer’s economic agenda, encouraged investors looking for signs that Brazil will stay the course on his unpopular but market-friendly reforms.

Brazil’s currency, the real, and the benchmark Bovespa stock index both gained nearly 2 percent on Friday, as traders cited better odds for Alckmin.

The centrist bloc made up of the Progressive Party (PP), Democrats (DEM), Solidarity (SD), Brazilian Republican Party (PRB) and the Party of the Republic (PR) said in a statement late on Thursday that they would stick together and find the best ticket for Brazil, but did not mention Alckmin.

The boost for Alckmin dealt a blow to populist rival Ciro Gomes, a former governor of Ceara state who had tempered some of his leftist rhetoric as he wooed the centrist coalition.

Alckmin is running fourth in current polling with just 6 percent of voter support, behind Gomes, environmentalist Marina Silva and front-runner Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right nationalist who has capitalized on voter anger with political corruption and leads with 17 percent.

The centrist bloc brings with it valuable public funding for the Alckmin campaign and more than 4 minutes a day of free TV and radio time under electoral rules — an advantage over rivals in the highly fragmented field ahead of the October election.

As Gomes on Friday accepted the presidential nomination of the center-left Democratic Labor Party (PDT) at a convention, he called for nationalist industrial policies to bolster Brazil’s production of fertilizers, defense products and equipment for the oil and gas industries.

Gomes has warned that he would undo a proposed tie-up between Boeing Co and Brazilian planemaker Embraer SA and reverse the result of auctions giving oil majors access to enormous offshore oil reserves if elected.

Alckmin’s new alliance comes at a crucial moment, as party conventions kick off and Brazilians tune in more closely to a presidential campaign that is less than three months away.

A four-term governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest state, Alckmin’s cautious oratory and establishment credentials have inspired little enthusiasm so far from an electorate still stewing over a deep recession and huge corruption scandals. (Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassú and Ricardo Brito Writing by Anthony Boadle Editing by Brad Haynes and Leslie Adler)

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